Eastern Cape Heritage
The Eastern Cape can be considered to be the crucible of South African History. For such a poor and forgotten part of the country, the Eastern Cape has had an effect on Southern African Development that is out of all proportion to the size and the economic influence of the Province.
One of the first dinosaurs on to be identified comes from the Eastern Cape. This was the “Blinkwater Monster”, which was discovered and identified near Fort Beaufort. Sice then many other fossils have been discovered of many different species, throughout the Eastern Cape, which is not surprising in one of the oldest land masses in the world. The karoo areas are especially rich in both plant and reptilian fossils. All fossils are protected by the South African Heritage Resources Act.
The Eastern Cape is the area where some of the oldest sites of modern human beings have been discovered as well as some of the oldest, if not the oldest evidence of cultural activity in the world. This is the Klaasies River cave sites in the Tsitsikhamma which have been dated back 125 000 years. Evidence has been uncovered at this site which includes a grave where the skeleton was in a foetal position and surrounded by cowrie shells, indicating that the body was buried with some ceremony. Where there is ceremony there is culture and this is the earliest proven evidence of cultural activity to be found on Earth. There are several other sites of importance in the Province but it is not encouraged that people be taken to these sites because of their delicate nature.
All along the coastline of the Eastern cape there are a number of sites left by the Later Stone Age people, often erroneously called the “Strandloper” people. These sites are to be found in mounds where their rubbish was thrown and these are called middens. They can be found all alonjg the coast and are usually a pile of mussel shells and other seafood shells. There are also a number of fish traps such as that at Thysbaai near cape St Francis where these traps were built to trap fish in the out going tides. All these sites were built between 30000 and 150000 years ago when sea levels began to rise and reach their current status as the icecaps that covered vast portions of the Earth began to melt. Between 80 000 and 30 000 years ago at the height of the last ice age the shore was further away than it is now, possibly as much as 60 kms in the Tsitsikhamma and 10 to 20 kms from East London.
The most visible sites of Early, Middle and Later Stone Age people are to be found alond the walls and cliffs and in caves in the mountainous regions. These were painted by the early inhabitants of the Province and along with those in the rest of South Africa, make up the richest such heritage in the world. These rock paintings are very grahic in their original form, and in their detail, scope and depth are splendid renditions of animals that are identifiable today. These paintings did not depict everyday life of the times but were a portal into the spiritual world of the people. Towards the end of this era, these paintings began to lose the splendid renditions of the earlier times and began to be more simply rendered and were often monochrome as opposed to the colourfull renditions of earlier times. They also began to show scenes that were not of a spiritual nature such as Ox wagons, soldiers in red uniforms and other sites near Cape Town just discovered show early sailing ships. These are indications of a society under stress and this period can also be described as “Apocalyptic Rock Art”
These people were stone age people and all their tools were made from stones and the country side is littered with these stone tools. Please note that all these remains and artifacts are protected by the South African Heritage Resources Act.
Iron Age Sites
About 1000 years ago another group of people began to move into the Eastern Cape,
who unlike the Stone Age People, were skilled in metal work. The most southerly of these sites is at canasta Place, about 20kms south of East London on the Port Alfred road.
These people were also herders and also grew their own crops; we are uncertain whether the Stone Age People did this. They stored their harvest in large underground grain pits, which have been discovered as far south as the Nqushwa area. No such sites have been found further south than that probably because that area marks the transition from summer rainfall to winter rainfall areas, although the people no doubt did travel further south than that and also grazed their cattle in those areas. It may well be that tyhese people were the ancestors of the Xhosa people who first met white trekboers in the areas between the Gamtoos and the Tsitsikhamma.
The grain pits and other artifacts, the crops and the cattle breeds, as well as the customs and the traditions and the designs and building techniques of these people are all important components of our heritage, and heritage is best described as links with the past.
In the 1760s boer people started moving into the Province and in 1786 the first recognized town in the Eastern Cape, Graaf-Reinet, was established. These people have left many tangible signs of their earlier life including the Afrikaans language and many splendid specimens of their architecture including splendid examples of Cape Dutch Architecture, although the Western Cape has most of these examples there are many splendid examples in the Eastern Cape as well, notably Reinet House in Graaf Reinet.
It was in the Eastern cape that the Boers began to refer themselves not as “Dutch” or “Boers” but as Afrikaners. They started the missionary endeavour that has had such an influence on South Africa, and it was from the Eastern Cape that the Boers departed on the Great Trek that led to the founding of the other provinces of South Africa and thus it can be said that all the subsequent events in South Africa that shaped our nation had their origin in the Eastern Cape.
The Boers and the Xhosa began their conflict over land and grazing rights in 1779 and this was to be the longest Colonial struggle in the history of Africa. At the same time events in Europe were coming to one of their perennial crisis and the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon caused the British to start getting worried about the French taking over the Cape, especially after Holland was overrun and in 1799 and in 1806 the British took over the Cape and to their horror this included the Eastern Cape, which was now in its second decade.
The British were not really interested in the Cape at that point, which served as a refueling stop for ships traveling to and from India. Their own such stop was the island of St Helena, but they could not afford to allow the Cape to fall to the French, nor would they permit the French to establish a base anywhere along the South African coast.
Thus during the First British occupation they built a fort on a bluff overlooking Algoa Bay, which is now in the centre of Port Elizabeth. Fort Frederick was the first building erected by the British in South Africa.
After the second occupation, they found that most of their energies were being brought to bear on the Eastern Cape, the least wanted part of their new colony. It was the most fractious and the continuing warfare along the Eastern Cape Frontier was a headache they did not need especially as at the time they were involved in a life and death struggle with the French.
The Xhosa at this time had local problems of their own, that culminated in the bitter war between the forces loyal to Ndlambe and those of Nqika. This reached its height at the battle of Amalinde, at Debe Nek just below NtabaKaNdoda in 1818. After this battle a remarkable man came to the fore, Nxele, also known as Makana. Makana asked the Xhosa what they thought they were doing fighting each other when on their doorstep a group of people from over the seas who were making war on the Xhosa and steadily encroaching on their land. Already the British had established a town a Grahamstown in 1812, the first town in Southern Africa to be established by the British which housed the military garrison for the Eastern Cape.
Makana was able to gather an army of over 10 000 soldiers and in April 1819, he launched his famous assault on Grahamstown. This battle has been called the most important in South African History because had the British lost the battle they would have abandoned the Eastern Cape and the subsequent history of South Africa would have been very different to what eventually did unfold. The site of the battle is today known as Egazini.
As a result of the battle of Grahamstown the British Government decided to settle people of British origin in the Eastern Cape and thus the Eastern Cape became the site where the four of the major ethnic groups in South Africa first came into contact with each other.
Forts and Battlefields.
The Eastern Cape has more forts than the rest of the South Africa combined. This is a legacy of the century long wars of resistance in this Province. The War of Mlanjeni was the longest and most expensive war fought by the British on the African Continent until the Second Anglo Boer War.
The Mission Stations
The missionary endeavour in the Eastern Cape had crucial ramifications for South Africa as the missionaries, although their role is controversial, did provide the first world class modern educational opportunities to African People. As a result the Eastern Cape became the first place where the Bible was translated into an indigenous Southern African language. The first African Dictionary was published in the Eastern Cape. The first Newspaper to be published in an African Language was published in the Eastern Cape.
It was in the Eastern Cape that the philosophy of African Nationalism grew its embryonic roots. Out of the Mission Stations grew the University of Fort Hare, the first African University in Africa.
Mission Stations dating back to the early years of the nineteenth century are stretched throughout the Province and could make an interesting tourist route.
The Eastern Cape role in the struggle has often been overlooked as the other struggle areas such as Soweto and Robben Island become the main focus of the struggle interest. This is a pity as the Eastern Cape played a major role in the liberation of South Africa. The names of Chris Hani, Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko, Victoria and Griffiths Mxenge are well known but the fact that most of the People incarcerated on Robben Island were from the Eastern Cape and their stories perhaps could be trumpeted louder.
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